Bronze Age migrants

Could Welsh star Stanley Baker’s ancestors be Bronze Age copper miners from Spain?

EVER wondered where the Welsh get their dark, swarthy looks from?
The brooding looks of Welsh characters like Sir Stanley Baker and Richard Burton are well known – and now new research aims to prove that the genetic make-up may come from the Spanish and Portuguese.
The researchers believe Wales became home to an influx of migrant workers from the Iberian Peninsula and the Balkans 4,000 years ago that helped shape the biological construction of modern Wales.
Academics at Sheffield University want to show the genetic traces of migrants who came to work in Bronze Age copper mines on Llandudno’s Great Orme and at Parys Mountain, on Anglesey, can still be found.
They are hoping men whose families have lived near the mines for generations will help them establish a genetic link back to the migrants.
They are looking only at male DNA, because men’s Y chromosomes carry their genetic heritage from father to son.
The research builds on previous work which showed a sample of people in Abergele, North Wales, had a genetic signature found in the Balkans and on the Iberian Peninsula.
Dr Bob Johnston, a lecturer in landscape archaeology, said: “Our plan is to sample enough people so we can say whether it’s a genuinely unusual (genetic) signature in Britain.
“If it is then we need to go to archaeological and historical data to look for information as to why that might be the case.”
Dr Johnston says during the Bronze Age there was strong contact along the Atlantic coastline between North Wales, south-west Scotland, Cornwall, the Irish coast and the Iberian peninsula.
The Sheffield academic added: “If there has been an early Bronze Age immigration then one suggestion might be that it’s connected to the copper sources.
“They were extremely important to Britain and Ireland in the early part of the Bronze Age. A lot of the copper used in bronze objects at that time came from the copper mines in North Wales.”
Last year professor John Koch suggested the Welsh could trace their ancestry back to Portugal and Spain.
His work debunked the century-old received wisdom that our forebears came from Iron Age Germany and Austria. In the late 19th century Sir John Rhys established the idea that we originally came from central Europe.
Sir John believed the Celts were the remnants of a great culture that extended here from modern-day eastern France, Switzerland, southern Germany and Austria.
But Professor Koch, of the University of Wales Centre for Advanced Welsh & Celtic Studies, in Aberystwyth, says archaeological inscriptions on stones show we came from southern Portugal and south-west Spain.
He has said: “Celts are said to come from west central Europe – Austria, southern Germany, eastern France and that part of the world.
“That’s been the theory that everybody has grown up with for at least 100 years.
“There is evidence that the Celtic languages were spoken there because of place names and people’s names.
“But the assumption was that was where they came from. I think they got there later.
“There is evidence in Spain and Portugal indicating they were there 500 or more years before.”
Expert on Welsh history and archaeology Dr Raimund Karl, says there is biological and genetic evidence to link the Welsh to the Iberian peninsula.
He said the population of the western part of the British Isles can trace its genetic origins to Brittany, northern Spain, Portugal and the French Atlantic coast.
But he said trying to locate the origins of any particular people to a specific place and point in time is meaningless because human populations are constantly moving and mingling.
The Bangor academic said: “It’s about demonstrating significant cultural influence rather than any genetic connection as such. ”
Anyone willing to be included in Dr Johnston’s study will need to provide a cheek swab sample so that their DNA can be analysed.
All the samples will be anonymous.

Update 15 may 2009 : I’ve managed to get someone of excellent Anglesey pedigree interested in taking part in this study. Sheffield University Project : The Bronze Age Copper Mines of North Wales: searching for genetic evidence of the prehistoric settlement of the British Isles


2 comments on “Bronze Age migrants

  1. Interesting research, but oh those journalists:

    … now new research aims to prove that the genetic make-up may come from the Spanish and Portuguese.

    The anachronism makes my teeth grind. Particularly given how many other ethnic strata got laid on top of the Ibero-Celtic population before we could start to call the resulting people either of Spanish or Portuguese.

  2. saesferd says:

    Thank you for your comment, Jonathan – sorry for the delay in replying – I’ve been to a conference (in Wales as a matter of fact). Yes, a bit of lazy journalism there, I think, or, to be kinder, a bit of misinterpretation of what the academics were actually saying.

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